After news emerged that a multi-disciplinary team led by the University of Surrey successfully filed the first ever patent applications for inventions autonomously created by AI without a human inventor, Ian Bolland caught up with team leader Professor Ryan Abbott about the potential knock-on effect for life sciences.
Professor Abbott began by explaining the potential effects the filing will have on life sciences and other industries.
“These filings are important to any area of research and development as well as any area that relies on patents. Patents are more important in the life sciences than in many other areas, particularly for drug discovery. AI has also been used extensively in the drug discovery process for a long time for tasks like screening of compounds and in silico analysis. These tasks can be the foundation for patent filings.
“As AI is becoming increasingly sophisticated, it is likely to play an increasing role in R&D including in the life sciences. It is an exciting prospect that AI may be able to improve the efficiency of some historically very inefficient practices. Pharma and tech companies are likely to develop AI to automate more and more of the drug discovery process.”
Abbott believes that AI is going to become more autonomous because of its current trends, and its continuing and progressive involvement in R&D.
“Depending on the legal rules that emerge from our filings it may change the sorts of things that can be protected, and in turn this will impact how the technology should develop. It is important to protect the output of AI to encourage investment in inventive AI, which I think will lead to all sorts of exciting developments. It is better to have AI do something a person can do if the AI has a competitive advantage in doing it—like modelling a million possible drug compounds for binding to an antigen.
“AI has been generating creative works, like newspaper articles, for a long time, but they haven’t traditionally been that good. Now we’re seeing AI getting to the point where for simple creative works it can sometimes be competitive with people, and this suggests such systems may soon be generating significant value.”
UK Copyright law defines creative works autonomously generated by AI as “computer-generated works” and allows copyright protection on these works. This is different from the United States which does not grant copyright protection. In response to these filings, the European Patent Office has replied that a person has to be at the heart of an invention.
Abbott elaborates, saying: “We’re not arguing the AI should own patents for reasons including that AI does not have legal personality and can’t own property. We’re arguing that the owner of the AI should get to own anything the AI functionally invents.”
Though AI may have become increasingly responsible for generating the designs of new medical devices as its influence in medtech has become more pronounced, whether IP protects AI might have an effect on the supply chain.
He added: “Without IP protections for AI generated inventions there may not be the same kind of incentives to develop future products.”